Whales and the wisdom of age

Whales and the wisdom of age

Vital wisdom from whales

I’m fascinated by whales. Their song, their size, their gentleness – not to mention the incredible rainbow of colours that appears when the sun catches the mist of outbreath that rises from their blowholes.

In addition, some species of whales are the only other beings on this planet, aside from humans, whose females live beyond their reproductive years. In other words, humans and whales are the only ones with grandmothers.

Grandmothers are the key to survival in whales.

They are the elders. In orca families, for example, grandmothers take the lead. They hold the most knowledge. They teach – and they share.

Whales and humans have the biggest brain to body size ratio or all animals, and so the logical conclusion is that they are the most intelligent. But what really matters is how any given person or animal uses that intelligence.

The state of our planet suggests that we humans have not used our intelligence wisely; we ravage and destroy it for our own greed. We see ourselves as separate from nature; we see nature as something to exploit.

And yet no species that lives that way can survive.

As orca grandmothers know, unless we support the whole, unless we recognise that we are part of the whole, we die. Humans often forget this. We need to tap into the wisdom of our elders and remember how to be a part of the cycle of life – not be separate from it.

In indigenous communities across the world, elders hold crucial roles and are revered as guardians of wisdom. They are able to share priceless knowledge and stories that support the community’s cultural values and teach the community how to live as part of – in harmony with – nature.

We are nature – and indigenous elders hold a vital key to survival.

It’s heartbreaking to see how, in many supposedly ‘developed’ countries, elderly people are marginalised and their contribution minimalised. And yet the oldest generations – like the orca grandmothers – have vital experience to share. Interestingly, research shows that when a grandmother dies in an orca family, the younger whales’ mortality rate increases.

My parents both died in 2009, and I wish I had talked with them more about the experiences of their lives, what they learned and the insights they gained. They had very difficult lives, and I wish I’d recorded their thoughts.

So often we don’t recognise the value and wisdom of age and experience – until it’s too late.

At the end of 2020 many of us now long to escape the pressures of this year, and many are gearing up to go ‘back to normal’ in 2021. I really hope we don’t, though.

Instead, let’s continue to find ways to undo the destruction we inflict on this planet and find better ways forward, tapping into the wisdom of those around us – particularly our elders.

Orca grandmothers babysitting younger whales – article from The Guardian

Understanding the orca matriarchy – TED animation


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